Tuesday, 26 June 2018

GIG REVIEW: Beth Nielsen Chapman - Kitchen Garden, Kings Heath, Birmingham. Monday 25th June 2018

The creaking wooden staircase, stone floor and bricked interior of the Kitchen Garden have witnessed a seemingly lifetime of musicians share their craft over the years. Many nationalities have brought a variety of music styles, all tightly bound by a vision to connect with an audience on the most intimate levels of interaction. Throughout this period, a soul has formed and a special bond has adhered between those laying their money down and those accruing the crumbs. The venue has become a triumph of content over message, a refreshing state of play in these superficial times. However, when Beth Nielsen Chapman anoints it as the “Bluebird Café of the UK”, then maybe it is time the message had at least a day in the sun.

To say that this two-night sold out stint by one of Nashville’s most revered songwriters moved the goalpost of the Kitchen Garden is an understatement. A change in dynamics was the order of the evening as a dedicated audience filed in to experience a Beth Nielsen Chapman show in a totally new format. The perfect platform for candidness discarded the shackles of a theatre set up, and an artist with a vivid story to tell sparked to the occasion.

When the term ‘An Evening with..’ is added to the bill, the blueprint need look no further to what rolled out between 8:15 and 11:00 tonight. Take out the ubiquitous twenty-minute break, and being short-changed was nowhere to be seen. Whether you wanted a bucketful of songs stripped back to their unfiltered origin or warm chat that breezed across a sultry evening, the menu was extensive and lavish. Even the most informed Beth Nielsen Chapman fan would have been hard pushed not to discover at least some aspect of a new nugget from this absolute baring of the soul.

To what extent she dips into these extensive autobiographical moments is unclear. Yet she thrived, projected rays of satisfaction and positively feasted from the loving surroundings. The visual enhancement of a projected slideshow added a personal touch. The lengthy chat, which was always going to prevail, was interspersed by songs played from the piano and the guitar. This was not a time for a band or even duo accompaniment; it was about one songwriter expressly displaying why their creative flow has capitalised in the cutthroat world of commercial entertainment.

Only recently, the excellent radio show Leader’s American Pie broadcast an hour-long interview where Beth delved deeply into the song writing process. Facets of this appeared during the evening especially towards the end when a Q & A segment further fueled the adrenalin. The bulk of the night probably lent more towards the sentiment rather than the technical. The backstory of loss, illness, recovery and triumph over adversity holds more sway in the paid environment.

A fascinating insight to the evening was piecing together the traits to why Beth Nielsen Chapman has succeeded in a world where similarly talented artists fall by the wayside. Obviously, an enormous wealth of innate song writing skill is in place, but many know that this is not necessarily the sole guiding light. The high degree of professionalism and a strong ability to communicate shone through. You can assume that there were few open doors left unexplored as exemplified by the diverse amount of projects diligently presented during the show. When the hits dried up, these projects assumed momentum.

The format of this show was chronologically linear, which can sometimes be in contrast to the random nature that often spontaneously radiates from an artist. The presentation was in line with a measured and calculated approach that is suggestively deduced from up front observations. None of these assertions cast any shade on the aura that surrounded Beth Nielsen Chapman and that you were not in the presence of a performer taking the meaning of ‘acclaimed’ and ‘respected’ to its intended level.

This evening was not about any surprises in the musical content. All the usual suspects were there from the country music cuts to the Radio 2 favourites. For somebody of such a high profile, the narrative is largely known as well. What defined this show was the adaptation to the surroundings and the perceived switch in dynamics. All coupled with the stark exposition of what a fine songwriter Beth Nielsen Chapman is, with all the components neatly packaged for display.

Inevitably, the Kitchen Garden will re-discover itself and Beth Nielsen Chapman will continue on a journey, now well past hall of fame status. For two nights only, the world order was reversed and it was fascinating to experience it. A little shake up is refreshing and shows like this create an indent in the mind. You can only surmise to how venue and artist will recall this show, but the UK’s answer to the Bluebird Café is not a bad start.